An acoustic neuroma is a rare and benign (noncancerous) tumor that does not spread to other parts of the body. It can only turn fatal if it enlarges enough to compress the surrounding brain stem, which is rare. The enlarged tumor presses on the brain stem and hampers the normal flow of fluid between your brain and spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid). This results in fluid buildup in your head (hydrocephalus), a life-threatening condition that increases the pressure inside your skull.
What are the signs and symptoms of an acoustic neuroma?
You are most likely to experience signs and symptoms of an acoustic neuroma after many years of its growth, but they are not because of the tumor itself. They appear when the tumor starts pressing on the nearby structures, such as:
- Hearing and balance nerves
- Nerves controlling the facial muscles and sensation
- Nearby blood vessels
- Nearby brain structures
As the tumor grows, you may notice the following signs and symptoms of an acoustic neuroma:
How is an acoustic neuroma diagnosed?
If you are experiencing any signs and symptoms of an acoustic neuroma, schedule an appointment with your doctor for an early diagnosis. Treatments can help halt tumor growth and prevent total hearing loss.
After asking questions about your symptoms, the doctor will look inside your ear with the help of an instrument known as an otoscope, which is a hand-held tool with a light and magnifying lens that helps the doctor see your ear canal and eardrum. This tool is helpful for doctors to know whether a middle ear or inner ear problem is causing your symptoms.
During your acoustic neuroma diagnosis, the doctor may also utilize the following tests:
- Audiometry: A common test that your doctor will typically recommend to find out the cause of your hearing loss. Also known as a hearing test, it is conducted by a hearing specialist (audiologist), who will ask you to listen to whispered voices, tuning forks or tones from an ear examination scope.
- Imaging: To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor will recommend you to undergo tests such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan with contrast dye or a computed tomography (CT) scan.
How do doctors treat an acoustic neuroma?
Before deciding the best treatment for you, the doctor will like to know:
- the size of your acoustic neuroma
- your overall health
- the severity of your symptoms
Based on this, the doctor will discuss three potential options: monitoring, surgery or radiation therapy.
Monitoring means your doctor will observe your tumor growth and the potential worsening of your symptoms once every six months or one year. Doctors usually adopt this strategy for older people and those in whom aggressive treatments cannot be performed.
If your doctor finds that your tumor is growing fast and has increased the severity of your symptoms, they will recommend surgery, radiation therapy or supportive therapy.
Surgery involves the removal of the tumor, either a part of it or the entire thing, through the inner ear or a window in your skull.
Radiation treatment involves targeting high-energy beams over the tumor to stop its growth and preserve your hearing.
Supportive therapy involves medications or devices to deal with symptoms or complications of an acoustic neuroma such as hearing loss, balance or dizziness, for example, hearing aids and cochlear implants.